Lapid gives up rotation deal with Gantz in bid to boost Blue and White

Abandoning pact that could have made him prime minister, party No. 2 says the faction is united behind its leader as new elections come into focus

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid speak during a campaign event in Kiryat Ono, on August 7, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid speak during a campaign event in Kiryat Ono, on August 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid announced Monday that he will give up on a rotation agreement for the premiership with party leader Benny Gantz, as he sought to bolster his party’s chances in the increasingly likely upcoming election.

Lapid, who headed the centrist Yesh Atid faction, which joined forces with Gantz ahead of April’s election, is seen by some as a more polarizing figure than the former IDF chief Gantz, and rival party Likud had used the prospect of him as prime minister as a rallying point in campaigns.

“If there are elections, we’ve decided that this time there won’t be a rotation agreement. We will go together, all of us, a large and united Blue and White behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister,” Lapid said at the opening of a Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset.

“I don’t feel like I’m giving up on something. I feel privileged,” he added.

He said it was not a difficult decision, though his insistence on the rotation agreement had originally held up efforts to merge Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

The agreement would have seen Gantz take the post for the first two and a half years if the party headed the government, and Lapid take over for the next year and a half.

Gantz was said to have resisted the rotation agreement at first, but eventually he relented, paving the way for the formation of Blue and White.

Lapid earlier agreed to give up the rotation in the case of a power-sharing agreement between Blue and White and Likud, but unity talks have apparently failed, with Israel likely headed to its third election in under a year.

Gantz, with his security credentials as former chief of staff for the IDF, is seen as more popular with moderate-right voters than Lapid. Ultra-Orthodox parties in particular have vowed not to work with the secularist politician.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud allies have blamed a lack of progress in coalition talks with Blue and White over what they have described as Lapid’s insistence on retaining the rotation agreement.

According to reports, Lapid has rejected power-sharing offers by Likud that would have let Netanyahu remain prime minister before his legal cases are wrapped up, whereas Gantz had been open to considering them.

“We built the largest party in the country. We set principles and values and stood by them despite all the temptations,” Lapid said. “We will do everything to prevent elections in the coming few days. If we succeed, great. If not – Blue and White will run united in the next election, led by Benny Gantz. And we will win.”

The announcement came ahead of a December 11 deadline when, if no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-member Knesset to form a government, elections will be called for March 2.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said Sunday night there was “still hope that we’ll manage to avoid needless elections,” with three days left until the Knesset deadline.

“I will make every effort, within the confines of the values that guide me, and without giving up my basic principles,” he said at a conference hosted by the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper.

After neither secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September election, both Gantz and Netanyahu expressed their support for a unity government including both of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse.

A recent poll showed Blue and White and Likud largely maintaining its current strength in new elections and little change in the makeup of the Knesset that has caused months-long political gridlock.

According to the Channel 12 survey on Friday, Blue and White would win 34 seats (one more than it currently has), Likud would win 33 (also a one-seat boost), the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties would remain at its current 13, Yisrael Beytenu would keep its current eight, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism would each win eight seats, New Right on its own (not as part of the last election’s Yamina alliance with Jewish Home and National Union) would win six seats, while left-wing Labor and Democratic Union would each win five.

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